Compressed Air Leaks and the Problems They Cause

Over the Fourth of July I had a great opportunity to do some backpacking in the backwoods of the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York. “That sounds awesome!” is what most people would think; looking back on it, it was awesome. BUT, at the time it was the very definition of complete and total suffer fest. During my time on the trail, I learned three life lessons. First, always thoroughly study up on every bail out point along the trail. Second, water proofing has its limits; and thirdly, when things leak it is dreadful. After 7 miles of crawling over rocks and traversing lakes and streams in the pouring down rain everything was soaked and water was leaking through our rain jackets, leaving me and my girlfriend cold, wet, and sore as all get out – all on day one.

Heading up the Algonquin Mountain trail starting Colden Lake

Leaks don’t just stink when they appear in your rain coat, they are dreadful all around whether it is leaking faucets, a leaky basement or compressed air line leaks. Unlike the fact that I currently have no solution for the leaking rain coat, I do have a solution for your leaking air lines. Leaks are costly and an all-around waste of money that can have severe implications on how the air is being used and the entire system itself.

There are four main affects that a leak in your compressed air system can have and they are as follows; 1) leaks can cause a pressure drop across the system, 2) leaks shorten the life of almost all air supply system equipment, 3) leaks demand increased running time of the compressor, and 4) leaks produce unnecessary compressor capacity by demanding more and more air.

  • A pressure drop across your compressed air system can lead to a decreased efficiency of the end use equipment (i.e. an EXAIR Air Knife or Air Nozzle). This adversely effects production as it may take longer to blow off or cool a product or not blow off the product well enough to meet quality standards.
  • Leaks can shorten the life of almost all supply system components such as air compressors. This is because the compressor has to continuously run to make up for the air lost from leaks. By forcing the equipment to continuously run or cycle more frequently means that the moving parts in the compressor will wear down faster.
  • An increased run time due to leaks can also lead to more maintenance on supply equipment for the same reasons as to why the life of the compressor is shortened. The increase stress on the compressor and supply side components due to unnecessary running of the compressor.
  • Leaks can also lead to adding unnecessary compressor size. The wasted air that is being expelled from the leak is an additional demand in your system. If leaks are not fixed it may require a larger compressor to make up for the loss of air in your system.
EXAIR’s Ultrasonic Leak Detector

It is fairly easy to find these leaks, simply use EXAIR’s affordable Ultrasonic Leak Detector. This leak detector uses ultrasonic waves to detect where costly leaks can be found so that they can be patched or fixed. So don’t get stuck in some rainy day with your compressed air leaking everywhere; find those pesky leaks, mark them for maintenance and seal them up.

If you have any questions or want more information on EXAIR’s Ultrasonic Leak Detector or like products. Give us a call, we have a team of application engineers ready to answer your questions and recommend a solution for your applications.

Cody Biehle
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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Determining Leakage Rate and Cost of Compressed Air Leaks

The electricity costs associated with the generation of compressed air make it the most expensive utility within an industrial environment. In a   poorly maintained compressor system, up to 30% of the total operational costs can be attributed simply to compressed air leaks. While this wasted energy is much like throwing money into the air, it can also cause your compressed air system to lose pressure. This can reduce the ability of the end use products to function properly, negatively impacting production rates and overall quality. Luckily, it’s quite easy to estimate the leakage rate and is something that you should be including in your regular PM schedule.

According to the Compressed Air Challenge, a well-maintained system should have a leakage rate of less than 5-10% of the average system demand. To estimate what your leakage rate is across the facility, first start by shutting off all of the point of use compressed air products so that there’s no demand on the system. Then, start the compressor and record the average time it takes for the compressor to cycle on/off. The compressor will load and unload as the air leaks cause a pressure drop from air escaping. The percentage of total leakage can be calculated using the following formula:

Leakage % = [(T x 100) / (T + t)]


T = loaded time (seconds)

T = unloaded time (seconds)

The leakage rate will be given in a percentage of total compressor capacity lost. This value should be less than 10% for a well-maintained system. It is not uncommon within a poorly maintained system to experience losses as high as 20-40% of the total capacity and power.

A leak that is equivalent to the size of a 1/16” diameter hole will consume roughly 3.8 SCFM at a line pressure of 80 PSIG. If you don’t know your company’s air cost, a reasonable average is $0.25 per 1,000 SCF. Let’s calculate what the cost would be for a plant operating 24hrs a day, 7 days a week.

3.8 SCFM x 60 minutes x $0.25/1,000 SCFM =


$0.06 x 24 hours =

$1.44/ day

$1.44 x 7 days x 52 weeks =

$524.16 per year

A small leak of just 3.8 SCFM would end up costing $524.16. This is just ONE small leak! Odds are there’s several throughout the facility, quickly escalating your operating costs. If you can hear a leak, it’s a pretty severe one. Most leaks aren’t detectable by the human ear and require a special instrument to convert the ultrasonic sound created into something that we can pick up. For that, EXAIR has our Model 9061 Ultrasonic Leak Detector.

Model 9061 ULD w/ parabola attachment checking for compressed air leaks

Implementing a regular procedure to determine your leakage rate in the facility as well as a compressed air audit to locate, tag, and fix any known leaks should be a priority. The savings that you can experience can be quite dramatic, especially if it’s not something that has ever been done before!

Tyler Daniel
Application Engineer
Twitter: @EXAIR_TD